Of­fi­cers’ pres­ence comes amid spike in drug use

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Libby Rainey Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

The Den­ver Po­lice De­part­ment has be­gun pa­trolling the Cen­tral Li­brary, amid a spike in drug use and il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity that has been the fo­cus of height­ened scru­tiny in re­cent months.

The Den­ver Po­lice De­part­ment has be­gun pa­trolling the Cen­tral Li­brary, amid a spike in drug use and il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity that has been the fo­cus of height­ened scru­tiny in re­cent months.

Li­brary of­fi­cials are cred­it­ing the in­creased po­lice pres­ence and other safety mea­sures with a sig­nif­i­cant de­crease in il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity this sum­mer. The down­town li­brary has also added cam­eras, in­creased waste clean-up around the build­ing and stocked over­dose kits on site to treat pa­trons.

“Just ob­serv­ing how the build­ing feels, there’s been a re­mark­able change,” said Michelle Jeske, the city li­brar­ian. “I don’t see the same ac­tiv­i­ties I did a month ago.”

Typ­i­cally po­lice have only vis­ited the li­brary when called, but of­fi­cers be­gan reg­u­lar vis­its in May. Po­lice pa­trolled in­side and out­side the build­ing for 219 hours be­tween May 11 and June 16, ac­cord­ing to a li­brary news re­lease. Both un­der­cover and uni­formed of­fi­cers are sta­tioned in the li­brary, said John White, a po­lice spokesman.

“It used to be a lot worse here,” said John McClaugh­erty, a 61-year-old home­less man and li­brary reg­u­lar who said he stopped us­ing the li­brary briefly due to ram­pant drug use by oth­ers. “It was ter­ri­ble go­ing in the bath­room, there were nee­dles. I feel a lot safer in here (now).”

Pairs of of­fi­cers tend to mon­i­tor the li­brary for four hours ev­ery af­ter­noon, said Chris Hen­ning, a li­brary spokesman.

“A lot of the deal­ers have been prey­ing on the home­less pop­u­la­tion. As the deal­ers move out, the prob­lem has got­ten bet­ter,” Hen­ning said. “We’re see­ing less loi­ter­ing, less trash in the past month.”

There have been 14 over­doses at the li­brary since Jan. 1, Hen­ning said. The Cen­tral Li­brary be­gan stock­ing kits with Nar­can nasal spray to treat over­doses in Fe­bru­ary, af­ter a 25-year-old man died of an over­dose. The kits have been used nine times since.

Po­lice made 40 ar­rests at the li­brary be­tween Jan­uary and May, pri­mar­ily for tres­pass­ing. Six ar­rests were made for war­rants, six for drug vi­o­la­tions and four for as­sault. The li­brary called po­lice 262 times in 2016, a 30 per­cent in­crease over the pre­vi­ous year. So far this year, calls have been down slightly.

Rachel Fewell, a li­brary ad­min­is­tra­tor, said many ar­rests at the li­brary are due to banned li­brary pa­trons re-en­ter­ing the space. Be­fore po­lice were pa­trolling, many banned li­brary cus­tomers would leave be­fore of­fi­cers ar­rived. Now, po­lice on site have been able to re­spond to tres­pass­ing im­me­di­ately. Some 700 pa­trons are banned at any given time, Fewell said.

As po­lice crack down on il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity at the li­brary, there has been an in­crease in waste and nee­dles found at nearby li­brary branches, in­clud­ing the Rodolfo “Corky” Gon­za­les, By­ers, and Ross-Broad­way branches and the Blair-Cald­well African Amer­i­can Re­search Li­brary. Hen­ning said the li­brary is mon­i­tor­ing th­ese sites but po­lice aren’t cur­rently pa­trolling there.

See­ing po­lice on-site at the main li­brary has re­lieved some pa­trons’ fears about safety, but oth­ers are un­easy.

Juan, a 37-year-old from Hous­ton who re­fused to give his last name, said he was us­ing the li­brary ev­ery day but stopped when po­lice started pa­trolling. Juan, who often sleeps in ho­tels and has no per­ma­nent home, com­plained about ha­rass­ment and said the of­fi­cers made him feel less safe.

The li­brary has in­stalled five new cam­eras out­side the build­ing, and will soon be hir­ing two new “peer nav­i­ga­tors,” men­tors

who were formerly down on their luck them­selves, to join the two so­cial work­ers and three peer nav­i­ga­tors cur­rently on staff.

Mul­ti­ple li­brary pa­trons said Fri­day that drug use is still fre­quent in the bath­rooms. James Short, a 51year-old home­less man who has fre­quented the li­brary for 30 years, said this year’s drug use has been the worst he’s ever seen.

“The prob­lem is mas­sive,” said li­brary reg­u­lar Eu­gene Ko­nen, who is also home­less. “You’d have to put a mon­i­tor in ev­ery bath­room to catch ev­ery­one.”

The li­brary closed the bath­rooms on two floors in June to com­bat this is­sue — re­duc­ing the num­ber of op­er­at­ing bath­rooms from 12 to eight, said Hen­ning, the li­brary spokesman. That al­lows se­cu­rity to check bath­rooms more fre­quently and con­cen­trates traf­fic in bath­rooms to cer­tain floors. The li­brary is con­sid­er­ing dif­fer­ent ap­proaches, in­clud­ing em­ploy­ing mon­i­tors out­side bath­rooms.

“It cer­tainly has got­ten bet­ter as we’ve closed those two floors down but that’s not a model we can sus­tain long term,” he said.

The Den­ver Cen­tral Li­brary was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing is­sues with “il­le­gal and un­wanted ac­tiv­i­ties.” There have been 14 over­doses at the li­brary since the start of the year.

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